Puccini according to Paolo Benvenuti
by Gabriele Barcaro
29/08/2008 - The challenging work of Paolo Benvenuti has never been so beautiful: his latest film, Puccini e la fanciulla (“Puccini and the Young Girl”), co-directed with his romantic and professional partner Paola Baroni, screens today at the Venice Film Festival. The title is not vying for the Golden Lion, but only because Müller and his team of selectors wanted to keep it out of competition. The film, however, is anything but inferior, in comparison with the few competition titles seen so far or indeed any others.
A discerning filmmaker-investigator, Pisan-born Benvenuti (former student of Rossellini and Straub-Huillet) was not interested in making just another biopic for music lovers, and explores instead a rather more private chapter in the life of the composer (played by orchestra conductor Riccardo J. Moretti): the suicide of his maid Doria Manfredi (Tania Squillario). Long believed to be his lover, the woman poisoned herself in 1909, at a time when the musician was composing "The Girl of the Golden West".
In order to "rehabilitate" the figure of the young woman – who, like the "witch" in Gostanza da Libbiano (2000) and the protagonists of Confortorio (1992), endures the life of a prisoner, although she is merely a servant – Benvenuti carried out bibliographic and archival research. He consulted books, biographies, letters and early twentieth-century films.
The director’s scrupulous attention to philological detail therefore remains unchanged. But this time it is accompanied by an admirable formal precision: more than the work on the language (carefully reproduced Italian and Tuscan dialect from the start of the last century), what strikes viewers most is the faithfulness of the director’s images, lensed by Giovanni Battista Marras, to the old-fashioned methods of the time (in 1:1,33). This is to the point where the film is almost bereft of dialogue: only music and traditional songs (often diegetic and played live) are blended with the sounds of nature, highlighting the infinite resources of the audiovisual form.
Produced by Arsenali Medicei in collaboration with the Tuscan Regional Multimedia Library (and with the support of local authorities and cultural institutions, in particular the Torre del Lago Puccini Festival), the film has not yet found an Italian distributor. International sales are being handled by Adriana Chiesa.
(Translated from Italian)